Story Title: Breathe Again by ysar
Chapter: 24. Union
Genre: Twilight – Romance / Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: Strong Language, Violence,
Status: Work In Progress
Summary: “If Alice hadn’t seen Bella cliff-dive, what would have happened? Would Bella have given in to her feelings for Jacob? Was she even capable of moving on? Victoria’s hunting, Edward’s coming back—and that’s just the beginning!”
This time the wait wasn’t so bad—if you didn’t count Rachel’s impatience. But at least she wasn’t crying anymore. She nervously flipped through the channels on the TV, never staying on a station long enough for me to even figure out what we were watching. It’s not like I could have concentrated on a TV show, but it would have been nice if she could have just picked something. Twice she stopped just long enough to get up and peek through the blinds, sighing in frustration.
“What is so important that they have to talk about it out there?” she whined, flopping down on the chair again.
“I’m sure it’s just pack stuff,” I told her. “And personally, I’ve had about enough of it for one night.” The truth was that I was dying to know what had happened, what was going to happen now. But just knowing Jacob—and everyone else I cared about—was safe was enough to tide me over for a few more minutes.
“But I—” she started to complain again.
Her next round of whining was cut off as the door opened. Billy wheeled in, followed by Sam, Jacob, and Paul.
Billy looked tired and as if he’d aged several years. The lines around his eyes were more pronounced, deeper. It was as if he was now wearing all the worry he hadn’t allowed himself to express earlier, and it made me wonder how Charlie was handling things in Forks. I knew better than to call him, though. There was no way he’d be anywhere near a phone.
Sam and Paul were shirtless, as usual, and while Paul didn’t seem at all changed, Sam looked even more serious than ever. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.
Jacob…well, there was something about him I couldn’t put my finger on. I supposed he felt like I did. Upset, relieved, emotionally exhausted. I knew he had conflicting feelings about who and what he was, and I supposed tonight had only served to exacerbate that. Oddly enough, he was wearing a shirt, even though he hadn’t bothered to button it up.
Rachel immediately leapt over the side of the chair with a sense of balance I could only dream about, jumping into the arms of a startled Paul.
“Okay, clingy,” he teased. “I was only gone a couple hours.”
Rachel responded by punching him in the chest, a move that was immediately followed by a yelp as she clutched her certainly injured hand. Jake laughed and threw an arm around me, pulling me down onto the sofa with him.
“Miss me?” he asked.
I didn’t need to answer. I just curled up into his chest, listening to the steady sound of his heartbeat as everyone else settled in. Billy moved to sit across from us, blocking the TV that no one was watching. Sam remained standing, towering over everyone and looking every bit the alpha that he was. Paul sat down in the chair as Rachel perched on the arm beside him. She kept running her hands over his shoulders, down his arms, like she was afraid that if she wasn’t touching him he’d disappear. I knew the feeling, and I curled in closer to Jacob.
“We don’t usually discuss this with outsiders,” Sam started, looking directly at me.
I felt Jacob tense beneath me, a low snarl erupting from him at Sam’s implication.
“Now, Jake—” Sam began.
“But she’s one of us now!” Rachel interrupted.
All eyes turned to stare at Rachel. Billy’s expression didn’t change much, but there was a curious spark in his eyes, and Sam simply looked shocked. I probably did, too. I mean, she’d said the same thing to me outside, but I’d written it off as hysteria.
“No, it’s okay,” I insisted. “I understand.” I was just grateful that someone besides Jake had spoken up for me.
“It’s not okay,” Jacob said quietly, menacingly.
Sam took a step toward Jake, challenging him to speak again when Billy spoke up.
“She is one of us,” Billy said in a quiet yet commanding tone.
Sam stopped short, looked over his shoulder at Billy, and then backed down.
“We didn’t get her. She got away,” Sam said, looking directly at me again.
I opened my mouth to speak, but I didn’t know what to say. She got away. Victoria was still out there somewhere, maybe planning her next attack.
“How?” I finally asked.
“She was crazy fast,” Paul volunteered. “But Jake got a piece of her.”
I spun to look at up at Jake. “A piece?” I asked.
“Her arm,” he explained. “We burned it.”
“Oh.” Well, this wasn’t exactly how I’d seen the conversation going. I’d thought we’d sit down, they’d tell me Victoria was dead, and our lives could continue as if nothing had ever happened. Instead, a now armless, probably very pissed off vampire was still after me.
“So what happened?” I asked. “The short version,” I quickly added.
Sam spoke first. “There were six of them. We think they set the fires, but we haven’t had a chance to verify that.”
“Charlie’s men are all over the place,” Jacob explained. “We can’t check for scents until they go home.”
“Yeah, if they haven’t all been washed away by then,” Paul complained.
“And the others?” I asked.
“They seemed disorganized, all over the place. Jared and Embry got one near the school. I found one behind Newton’s, and Quil took down another by the Baptist church. The fires led us right to them, and they also came in handy for…ah…disposal.”
“Yeah, and Jake ripped that blond one apart!” Paul said excitedly. From his tone, you’d think he was bragging about hitting a home run or something.
I couldn’t help but shiver at the thought. I should have felt happy about it, but I couldn’t. I was torn between the nightmare of what had happened with James and the fear of it ever happening to one of the vampires I loved, even if they didn’t love me anymore. That, and my boyfriend had just killed someone.
“So another one got away, too?” I asked, tallying the numbers in my head and coming up one short.
“No, Seth and Leah got the last one,” Sam said proudly.
“What…how…but they were right here!” I argued. If Seth and Leah…well, that could only mean one thing. One of Victoria’s new coven had gotten too close.
“I told you they’d protect you,” Jake said, squeezing me closer.
I wanted to ask more, but my head was already spinning. I looked over at Rachel, but she was no help. Her eyes were darting around the room, her mouth gaping. Clearly she was as stunned by the night’s events as I was.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when the phone rang. No one moved to answer it, so I got up and walked to the kitchen. I looked back at Jake, and he just nodded before he started talking to Sam again.
“Ah…Black residence?” I said uncertainly. I felt pretty at home at Jake’s, but answering the phone was just out of my comfort zone.
“Bells?” Charlie asked.
“Hey, Dad,” I said in a relieved sigh.
“Oh, thank God you’re still there. Listen, we took a bunch of arson hits in town tonight. I think it’d be best if you stayed in La Push. It’s been quiet for a little while, but we’ve got our hands full, and I’d feel better knowing you aren’t in the line of…well, fire if they strike again.”
“Is everyone okay?” I asked. It was the question I really needed answered, and I knew Sam and the pack had been too focused on chasing vampires to know about the rest of the town.
“Looks like it. They didn’t target any homes, just the businesses. Newton’s got it pretty bad. They also hit the power company, one of the churches, and three restaurants. Looks like they tried to get the school too, but sprinkler system kicked in and the only real damage was outside. Anyway, I gotta get over to the church now. You’ll be okay there tonight?”
“Sure. I’ll call Emily,” I said.
“No, stay where you are. Emily’s a nice girl, but…Billy can look out for you.”
Charlie was more upset than he’d let on. That was the only explanation for his insisting that I stay at the house of his most trusted friend. Apparently the fact that Jacob was here had slipped his mind.
“And Bells? I’m trusting you,” he added.
I guess it didn’t slip his mind after all. “I know, Dad,” I replied. “Be safe.”
“Lemme talk to Billy.”
I stretched the long cord over the counter and handed the phone off to Billy, and then returned to my spot on the sofa with Jake.
“You okay?” Jake asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s just a lot to take in.”
“You’re handling it really well,” he said, motioning toward his sister.
Rachel was in tears again, and Paul looked completely lost. I got the feeling he wasn’t the best when it came to comforting crying women.
“Bella, you’ll stay here tonight,” Billy announced. “I’m off to bed.”
Clearly he didn’t share Charlie’s concerns.
Sam wanted to talk to us before we all took off. It was actually the first time he’d done this—we usually just all went off on our own if we wanted. But then again, it was the first time any of us had been through something like tonight. Before tonight, we’d only come across one bloodsucker…well, at least since I’d been with the pack. Seth, Leah, and Quil had even less experience. And six of them at once was something none of us had expected.
“No patrols tonight,” he said.
“But—” I began to protest. There was still one leech out there, the one that wanted Bella.
“No buts,” he interrupted. “We’ve had a long night, and we all need rest. Paul, you’ll stay at Jake’s tonight, right?”
Embry chuckled and Paul shot him a warning look.
“I’ll be staying at Rachel’s tonight,” he corrected him.
Sam nodded. “That should be enough. Besides, if she comes back at all, it won’t be tonight.”
He was right, and everyone else seemed to agree. Still, it wasn’t how I would have done things if I was alpha.
Engine noise caught our attention, and we quieted for a moment as headlights lit the yard. Emily threw the truck in park and stepped out quickly, walking straight to Sam and looking him over for injuries.
“I’m fine,” he insisted as she turned him around in a circle.
“Then you won’t mind if I see for myself,” she replied. Satisfied that Sam didn’t need any first aid, she turned to the rest of us. “Anyone hurt?” she asked.
“Nothing we can’t handle,” Quil said.
She made the rounds anyway, inspecting each of us for damage.
Embry winced when she touched his shoulder, and despite his protests, she insisted on putting his arm in a sling. His leech had dislocated his shoulder, and though it had easily popped back into place and was getting better by the second, we all knew the only way Emily would feel better was if we let her play mom.
Quil and Leah passed her inspection, but Seth had to endure some kind of spray and some gauze pads to cover scratches that would probably be healed in the next hour anyway.
I tried to avoid her ministrations, but it was useless. I heard the gasp the second she got a look at my back, and I was only glad she hadn’t seen it thirty minutes ago. She got me with the spray, too, and it burned like hell, but I refused to let her cover my back in bandages. On the bright side, she got all the dried blood off me, and she dug one of Sam’s shirts out of the truck.
“So Bella doesn’t see,” she said, holding it up for me to put on.
The conversation turned to bragging and teasing, then, with most of the focus on Paul, the only one of the pack who didn’t get in a kill. The guys were egging me on, hoping I’d chime in since I was the only one who took on two leeches, even if I hadn’t managed to take them both out. But I wasn’t having any of it. I just wanted to go inside and see the one person who made all this worth it.
Rachel was having a high-pitched fit when we walked in, and the second she saw Paul, she hurled herself at him. Bella smiled at their banter and then turned to me. She looked exhausted but happy. We’d already kind of had our reunion outside, but I still needed to be near her.
I plopped down on the sofa, pulling her with me. “Miss me?” I asked.
She curled up against me and I wrapped my arms around her. Dad and Sam looked like they were ready for yet another mini-meeting, but I shook my head at Sam, silently letting him know it would have to wait a few minutes. As strong as she was, Bella had been through a lot tonight.
When Bella finally lifted her head to look around the room, Paul and Rachel took a seat, and Sam spoke.
“We don’t usually discuss this with outsiders,” Sam said, his gaze focused on Bella.
If she hadn’t been right next to me, I’m not sure I could have stopped myself from phasing and attacking him right then and there. And Sam knew it.
“Now, Jake—” Sam started in a pointless attempt to calm me.
“But she’s one of us!”
Rachel? Every head in the room whipped around to stare at her. Where the hell did that come from? Not that I minded…
“No, it’s okay. I understand,” Bella said. She was always so accepting, never insisting upon what she deserved.
“It’s not okay,” I said, more to Sam than to Bella.
Accepting the challenge, Sam started toward me, and I made ready to push Bella from my side. He knew I wouldn’t hesitate to fight him over this.
“She is one of us.”
Whether Dad meant it or just wanted to diffuse the situation, I couldn’t be sure. Whatever his reason, Sam listened.
“We didn’t get her. She got away,” he said simply, backing down and again looking directly at Bella
Bella was turned away from me, so I couldn’t see her expression, but I could imagine. And based on the guilty look on Sam’s face, it wasn’t good. Way to soften the blow.
“How?” she asked softly.
“She was crazy fast, but Jake got a piece of her,” Paul said proudly. While it was certainly true, I didn’t think Bella would be nearly as excited about that as he was.
“A piece?” she asked, turning to me.
“Her arm. We burned it.” It wasn’t really a detail I wanted to share with her, but there was really no way to pretty it up.
“Oh,” was her only response. She was quiet for a moment, and we all waited. Then she asked, “So what happened?” she asked. “The short version.”
We spent the next few minutes giving Bella the condensed version of everything that had gone down. Thankfully, no one volunteered any more gory details, and Bella seemed most concerned with the fact that the leech was still out there. In a way, I was relieved. But mostly I just felt guilty.
It’s a strange situation we were in. We all sat there calmly discussing the fact that we’d spent the evening on a kind of killing spree, and Bella just seemed to quietly accept it, compounding my guilt. It was my fault the leech wasn’t dead. If I’d been faster or stronger, if I’d been smarter about letting her get to the water, if I’d just done something different, maybe Bella would feel safe. Instead, I’d let her would-be killer get away.
I didn’t feel too good about what I had accomplished either. I didn’t want to be a killer, even if it was for the greater good. Sure, I was proud of my heritage and of my responsibility to protect the tribe and the community, and I always tried to focus on that fact. But even though I knew I was only destroying murderous monsters, it didn’t make me feel like any less of one myself.
To make matters worse, Sam let on that one of the leeches had gotten close. It’s not that I wanted to keep things from Bella, but I also didn’t want to scare her—any worse that tonight already had. She was strong, stronger than I would have expected, but I was sure she was close to the limit.
“I told you they’d protect you,” I said, pulling her just a little closer.
As if on cue, the phone rang, and no one moved to answer it. I’m sure Dad thought whoever it was could wait. Pack business always came first. Rachel was too busy fawning over Paul, and I wasn’t about to move from Bella’s side. To my surprise, Bella got up to answer it. She looked back at me, as if asking permission, and I nodded. I was actually a bit relieved that she was walking away from the conversation.
As soon as we realized she was talking to Charlie, we began talking in hushed whispers. Sam didn’t really want to give Bella any more details, but he thought she might be able to give us more insight. Dad thought she deserved to know as well. Paul didn’t care one way or the other.
“Don’t you think she’s been through enough?” I asked.
“More than enough,” Sam agreed, “but I thought you wanted her to know.”
“Well, yeah, but maybe not in so much detail?”
“Look, Jake,” Sam said, “If it was up to me, none of the girls would know about any of this, but Bella’s the target. If she’s going to know anything, it might as well be everything.”
“Sam’s right,” Dad said. “Besides, Bella’s the one who gave us information when we needed it. And there’s only so much you can protect her from. Focus on the real danger here.”
Before I could argue, Bella walked back in carrying the phone.
“Billy? Charlie wants to talk to you.”
“You okay?” I asked as she sat back down beside me.
“Yeah. It’s just a lot to take in.”
I searched her face for some sign of what she was feeling. She definitely looked overwhelmed, but she didn’t look like she was going to fall apart or anything…unlike my sister, who was crying again.
“You’re handling it really well,” I said.
Dad handed the phone to Sam, who walked over and hung it up for him.
“Bella, you’ll stay here tonight,” he said. “I’m off to bed.”